In Part 1, we got an overview of ePortfolios' uses and platforms. Today we'll look at their pedagogy and assessment.
A commitment to pedagogy is critical to a successful ePortfolio learning experience. Instructors, students, and portfolio assessors must familiarize themselves with folio thinking and how it will be presented in the ePortfolio in relationship to the desired learning outcomes.
Folio thinking encourages students to reflect on their critical thinking skills and the development of those skills, often through written drafts that culminate in thoughtful written reflections that accompany their artifacts. Indeed, students can only achieve the learning objectives of an ePortfolio through regular and repeated engagement with the artifacts, message, and form of the ePortfolio.
To this end, you play an essential role. You need to develop pedagogy that will guide students in sustained engagement with the ePortfolio throughout its development. The ePortfolio shouldn’t be an afterthought completed at the end of the semester or quarter, but, rather, a thoughtfully produced exhibit of student work with a clear argument about a student’s learning and skills. For our Notation in Science Communication ePortfolio, we’ve also asked students to include a cover letter artifact to provide overall context for the artifacts and reflections that accompany them.
Additionally, you will need to help students understand their audience. Some ePortfolio tools allow students to quickly make versions of their ePortfolio tailored to a specific audience. Clearly, an ePortfolio tailored to meet a specific set of learning objectives may not be exactly the same as one to send to a potential employer. Instructors should help students determine and understand the expectations of their audience so they can align their ePortfolio(s) to meet the needs of their audience whether that be instructors, graduate schools, or employers.
After you determine an ePortfolio platform and carefully consider your ePortfolio pedagogy, you should turn your attention to ePortfolio assessment. Since everyone who evaluates the ePortfolio will have their own expectations about what an ideal ePortfolio will look like and contain, it is essential to orient all parties to the learning objectives of the ePortfolio and to the concept of folio thinking as early in the creation process as possible.
To help all parties agree on how to evaluate the success of an ePortfolio, you should hold a norming session in which all assessors meet and review the learning objectives and, if possible, view an example ePortfolio. The group should also discuss the intended audience for the ePortfolios and make sure everyone is in agreement about expectations.
ePortfolios often contain previously-graded artifacts in the form of papers or presentations from prior classes. Sometimes students might also include a weaker artifact to help illustrate their learning and growth over time. As the instructor, you should be aware of this possibility and help your students craft effective reflections that strongly illustrate why they have included a weaker artifact. You should also prepare others involved in the evaluation process for the possibility that not all of the artifacts will be perfect and help them understand that weak artifacts combined with strong and thoughtful reflections might add value to an ePortfolio. Ultimately though, which artifacts to include are a question of audience—imperfect artifacts might not be appropriate for an ePortfolio sent to a potential employer or graduate school—but context is critical.
ePortfolios have a lot of potential, but it is easy to underestimate the role of instructor. You are a critical component of learning process, and it is only through your commitment to engaging students in a critical dialogue about their thinking, their assumptions, and their learning that they will be able to effectively reflect, grow, and transform via the ePortfolio creation process. But you can’t do it alone, equally important is your university's investment in understanding what good pedagogy is alongside their assessment goals. If you are interested in learning more, check out “Documenting Learning with ePortfolios: A Guide for College Instructors” by Light, Chen, and Ittelson . If you have ideas about what makes ePortfolios transformative, please share them in our comments section.
Megan O’Connor is the Academic Technology Specialist for Stanford Introductory Studies.
 Light, Tracy Penny, Helen L. Chen, and John C. Ittelson. “Documenting learning with ePortfolios: A guide for college instructors.” John Wiley & Sons, 2011.
ePortfolios and Self-Reflection Earlier post by the same author